Barbour prevails in spat over bill pushed by attorney general

Published 4:49 pm Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gov. Haley Barbour’s conservative allies sided with him as the House tried, and failed, to override his veto of a bill that would’ve required the state attorney general to keep a list of toys with lead paint or other dangerous defects.

Seventy-two House members voted Wednesday to override the veto, but that was six short of the two-thirds needed for an override. Forty-eight members sided with the governor and voted against the override attempt.

In striking down the bill last week, Barbour said it went too far in creating a separate procedure for filing claims for allegedly defective products.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The bill originally had passed the House 119-3, and the Senate 51-0.

But the issue became a political struggle between Republican Barbour and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. On the override vote Wednesday, the House Republicans and a couple of conservative Democrats switched over to side with the governor.

During a 45-minute debate, nobody argued for Barbour’s position — an indication that his allies already knew they were going to win. Because the House was unable to get a two-thirds majority, the Senate will not have to consider an override attempt.

House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, argued that children could be hurt by innocently putting lead-contaminated dolls into their mouths while they go to sleep.

“What the governor ought to be talking about is children first,” Blackmon said.

Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, took a jab at the governor’s reasons for vetoing the bill.

“Maybe he sucked on a lead-painted toy, I don’t know,” Evans said — a remark that drew surprisingly little response in a chamber where members often boo or applaud insults from the podium.

Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, said the federal consumer-protection agency is understaffed, overworked and too cozy with the industries it regulates.

“The truth is, the federal government has let us down in this area,” Jones said.

In striking down the bill, Barbour said it would’ve allowed such claims to be filed under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act, which has different standards than Mississippi’s existing products liability laws designed to protect consumers and manufacturers.

Barbour said the bill would “negate Mississippi’s fair and just legal system by setting up a separate, poorly defined scheme for alleged defective children’s products without indicating what, if any, of the provisions of our state’s existing products liability laws would apply.”

Hood had asked legislators to give his office the power to create a list of defective toys after several products were recalled in the past few months. He said this week that Barbour “sold out Mississippi’s children for big business and their Chinese imports.”

Barbour said the bill also failed to define the term “children’s products.” He said that this could cause confusion and open the door for almost any type of products liability case.

Barbour said he supports creating a list of defective children’s products, which could be made available over the Internet to the public. But he said the list should be handled by the state Department of Health or the Department of Human Services.

The bill is House Bill 1240.